Introduction and Motivation
Let's start with a key insight: a PMO is an embodiment of the largely invisible project environment of an organisation, in whatever shape that PMO appears. The point of project management as a corporate discipline is to execute projects in a controlled environment. What allows the various strands of governance to come into play is the concept of control . The PMO works best when it is focused on governance. However, although the PMO originally arose from the evolution of project management as a transferable discipline, and although PMOs are only found where projects are run, nevertheless the PMO is an attribute of the business. It can only be understood and managed in the context of the organisation. It becomes meaningless and ultimately contradictory and without value if it is conceived purely in terms of the projects it deals with. The concept of PMO roughly sketched above prompts several questions. These questions in turn will prompt further questions. My aim is to explore these questions, and to find out which questions are more valuable for different groups of practitioners.
Let's unpick the core concept of PMO using the following questions as a starting point:
- Why are there different 'shapes' of PMO, or to put it another way: why is it so difficult to define "PMO"?
- What is 'the project environment' of an organisation?
- What does it mean that it is 'largely invisible'?
- What is the difference between plain project management and 'project management as a corporate discipline'?
- What is governance in this context?
- Why does a PMO work best when it is focused on governance?
- What else could a PMO conceivably be focused on?
- What does 'an attribute of the business' mean in this context?
- What about the traditional concept of PMO as a subset of project management, in fact sometimes seen as infrastructure or administration?
- What about existing standards of PMO?
I will address and develop each question in turn in the posts that follow. Then we can build a framework, a flexible and evolving framework, that can accept refinements and new findings as we progress. Having a framework will allow us to progress from understanding PMOs in general towards optimisation of a real PMO setup, which is after all the most valuable benefit of this process.
The topic is vast: it encompasses many of the latest improvements in the practice of corporate project management, such as programme management and portfolio management with their own published standards, and other developments that are very common buy not standardised, such as the effects of matrix management on project organisation, the layering of roles, the de-skilling of project managers within disciplines, etc. The ultimate aim is to provide a framework that will allow the proper placement of all the other strands of practice touched by PMO in a way that their impact can be managed as smoothly as possible.
Each of the questions above will trigger others. As I've noted above, I see this as a process of understanding PMO in order to optimise a given implementation that you are actually involved in. My aim would be to capture as many original questions from practitioners (you) as possible, so that we can evolve our understanding in step with the realities we all face. Optimisation based on understanding means that we can flow with the stream of changes in our business environments, which in turn manifests itself as changes to the project environment that we aim to control.
Finally, this is aimed at PMO practitioners, who are looking for ways to improve their offering. Obviously others who work in the project environment, or have responsibility for it, will also appreciate the context.